Change for a catalyst

Post the FA Cup victory in 2017, there was an air of uneasy expectation. An air that the frenetic media and anxious fans had concocted. Would it be Team Ivan or Team Wenger? Did Stan undermine Ivan by striking a backroom deal with Wenger? Should Ivan resign and hold the moral high ground, considering his larger-than-life political moves had backfired. Fortunately, or unfortunately for some, our club runs more like a corporation rather than a high-stakes-poker organization.

One of the guiding principles of most corporations is risk aversion, unlike entrepreneurial organizations which are risk seeking. While Chelsea has a strong flavor of the latter, with the Russian roulette finishes in the league table and alternating seasons of title victories and era-defining crises, Arsenal, for better or for worse, works like a corporation. Our corporate behavior manifests itself regularly in the transfer market, where we hold prolonged and possibly bureaucratic negotiations. We hoard cash and always try to show a “savings” on the transfer budget. As someone who has spent my career in finance and planning, the first thing you learn is if you are given a budget, you try and show savings in it. Another defining characteristic of corporations is prolonged cycles for effecting change. I would not be surprised that the talk of change has been in the air at Arsenal for possibly two to three years. But, risk aversion and prolonging cycles for effecting change imply that the scale only moves by a little bit, every review cycle. The drums of change possibly did echo the strongest at the end of last season but the parameters of decision making were certainly influenced by the downside risk as against an argument for upside potential.

Wenger is certainly good for at least a 4th or 5th every season. If we fire him without a succession plan or even parallel roles with continuity, Arsenal could be in a negative spiral that would be tough to recover from

While I may or may not agree with such a sentiment, this inertia based decision necessitated risk mitigation and redundancy planning within Arsenal. It is not a coincidence that this season has seen more off- field appointments since, dare I say, the season, Wenger joined the club. It is also interesting that most of the identified people are not joining at the end of the current season but with months to burn. (Surely, a stingy club like ours would have thought of saving on some salary by not signing the scout till the end of the season.) There have been appointments of continuity through the non- playing roles of Lehmann and Mertesacker. Add to it, the rumor of Overmars joining the club, Ivan is clearly attempting to hold onto atleast a sprinkling of the Wenger DNA into the new era.

Or is it at most a sprinkling of the Wenger DNA? Sven Mislintat is a strong personality appointed into the role of Head of Recruitment. Reports seem to indicate that he is not someone afraid of a conflict. His background with the stat company, in the backdrop of Wenger’s mistrust of such an approach, is especially interesting. There are many world class scouts that Arsenal could have gone for, who would not challenge Wenger, who lean on the traditional approaches. But, there seems to be a calm yet bold statement about this appointment. The appointment of Raul Sanllehi, as well, adds further credence to this argument.

Many fans felt that the honorable thing for Ivan to do was quit. But corporations do not work like that. Political turf battles linger and play out over longer terms. Rarely, would you see CEOs quit because their pet project was overruled by the board. They continue to build the case for their pet project and let it succeed over time. Also, since political turf battles linger, lets not assume that these appointments spell the end of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. For better or for worse, we are supporting a club run like a corporation. Its structure will ensure that we never experience the volatile lows but the same structure will also delay gratification when it comes to embracing the highs. In corporations, you rarely see “catalysts for change” but more like see “changes for a catalyst”.

Arsenal View (Twitter: @Arsenalview_)



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